The Rules of the Game


We went bowling the other night to blow off steam after a day of National Writing Project meetings. There’s a place nearby that serves great drink and dinner offerings laneside. Jean told us she’d never bowled before and was somewhat hesitant that she’d injure herself. The rest of us assured her that despite the contact made between the ball and the pins that bowling was not a contact sport. She agreed to try and then proceeded to clean our clocks. Beginner’s luck met our incompetence brilliantly. She nearly doubled everyone’s score.

I was largely untroubled by this as no one would attribute great skills in this arena to me, but after a run of no contact at all between the aforementioned ball and pins, I noticed that the computerized scorer was calculating the speed of my throws. While I had little control over where my ball went after it left my hands, I did know how to throw it faster, and so this became the object of the game for me. I’d announce how many miles per hour I’d throw and then do my darndest to make that happen. If some pins fell down too, all the better. A guy a few lanes over was trying to do the same thing apparently. His throws were largely twenty-five mph or better while mine hovered in the mid-teens, but I did knock down more pins than he did. I’d say we were having equal amounts of fun.

Struggling readers and writers attempt to change the rules of our games some times too. Copying quotes without attributing them might be a sincere effort to cheat or a sincere effort to be done. When their comprehension lags, they might power through novels too. “I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I finished before you” one might say. Or they might skip the book altogether  at the first instance of frustration and go directly to Cliff notes. How do we alter these behaviors? There are many answers, but one of them has to be explaining what we do when we hit roadblocks in our learning and what we do about them. No one will win the game unless we do.

Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 1:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Crocheting my understanding


Last week the women in my family began Crochet Club, an idea borne out of Kate Jacobs’ Friday Night Knitting Club. Barbara is an accomplished crocheter and the rest of us are not. We thought the rest of us should learn from her while we could and we knew we’d all enjoy each other’s company. So after a quick supper Barbara pulled out a few pattern books for us to choose projects from. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “How we will all learn if we’re all working on different things?”

Courtney chose a pocketbook made up of a fleur -de-lis pattern. (Not what it’s called in the crochet world, but I both don’t know what it’s called and wanted to give you a visual image.) Rosa chose to make circular potholders made with three different colored yarns. I decided on a poncho. Each pattern came with instructions, which we read, and we were off to the races. Barbara showed each girl how to get started. I was okay initially. I know a smidge more than they do, having worked on the same afghan for almost twenty years. What can I say? I get bored easily. But then I forgot how to perform a very simple stitch. I trusted my fingers’ muscle memory would kick in if given the chance. After a bit of practice, it did.

And did chaos ensue while we three worked on completely different projects, their only commonality  that they all started with the letter P? Of course not. Barbara as I said before is a master of her craft. She was able to step in and show us when we’d gone astray, answer questions when posed to her, and offer encouragement at our fledgling attempts. Because we’d each chosen something we wanted to work on, something we would be able to use in our lives, motivation for learning was high. Come to think of it. This happens in workshop classrooms all over the country. Kylene Beers in When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do says “A workshop approach does not mean the teacher doesn’t teach. It does mean that you provide specific information that students need to help them accomplish whatever they are working on at the time.” When given time, choice, a real reason to read and write (or crochet), and a knowledgeable teacher, deep learning takes place. If only we’ll let it.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me how well we all learned that night or how eager we all are to sit with yarn again. It seems I need to learn what I already knew over and over again.

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hello world!

I am a confirmed technophobe. Some, including me, might go as far as to call me a Luddite.  Don’t get me wrong. I think lots of technology is way cool, but much of it seems over my head, and some of it, frankly, seems complicated just because it can be. But as I said to my husband this morning, “If you can’t beat’em, then join’em.” I hope as is true in most of the rest of my life, by attempting to create with technology, I’ll grow to understand more of it.  And if not,  at least I’ll learn more about my own learning, a topic that as an English teacher and professional development provider is near and dear to my heart.

The name of the blog is taken from an article I wrote a few years ago for  Voices from the Middle, a journal for middle school English teachers, published by the National Council of Teachers of English. In it I quote Mary Vorse, who said, ” The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”


A member of my writing group and no slouch of a writer herself, Sue Michel, created this card to congratulate me on publishing this article.

A member of my writing group and no slouch of a writer herself, Sue Michel, created this card to congratulate me on publishing this article.



So here’s the other reason for the blog. As a Fellow of the National Writing Project, I know that the best teachers of writing as those who write themselves. I do send some pieces out into the stratosphere occasionally, but this might keep me a bit more honest. Let’s see.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 1:21 pm  Comments (2)